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Nr.111 / Year 5

January 17, 2017

Time to get tough!


Today our introduction will show that thebesttravelled.com has a little more edge and a little more attitude than we have usually demonstrated. Yes, we are continuing our work with our TBT Series, and we hope you enjoyed the first version of our Experiences - thanks to those who wrote with suggestions; we are adding Festivals almost daily and are also trying to improve our various Cities Lists - check them out for additions or improvements (occasionally we may amalgamate cities we find are very close into one item).

We have a new first ranked traveller - Andre Brugiroux from France, author and much more than a mere traveller, has finally joined us and instantly conquered the first position in terms of our TBT Masterlist of 1281 regions - subject to verification of course! We are very happy to welcome this wise and humble traveller, who we interviewed two years ago in our Newsletter Issue 62. We don't like to rant, but we will take this opportunity to remind you what he already knows - that in reality there is no number one. Travelling is not about being the best in anything, and our name is certainly not an indication that there is a best traveller - rather, that travelling is the best thing, that it makes you better, bigger as a person, and that aspects of travel - cities, nature, museums, airports even - can be 'the best'. This seems to be lost on some 'travellers' whose aim appears to mainly be to compete and self-declare themselves as 'the number one', while denigrating others' efforts to see as much as they can and expand themselves through exploring the world. For us, travelling implies being selfless, demands sharing at least a little goodwill with the communities and the people one meets on travels, and certainly is far removed from narcissistic self-exhibition. Such selfishness merely proves that those who think they have travelled far have in fact not learned anything from what they have seen. In other words, whenever we hear anybody claiming 'I am number one', we shudder and feel just pity, certainly not admiration for the lost soul who should know better. Sadly, the media seem to always need a number one - which is why we caution everybody to not believe what they read (but you already know that).

In light of all this, and in view of our recent understanding that quite a number of our high-ranking members are avoiding verification or claiming visits while transiting destinations, we will become stricter in terms of both membership and verification. We cannot accept that, for example, a quick plane change at Jeddah airport can equate with the patience and ingenuity of those who have succeeded in getting a Saudi visa in order to really see and experience a country which is certainly unique. The referendum two years ago on what makes a visit was decisive in rejecting transits as visits. In fact nearly 100% of  'non professional travellers' we have ever asked immediately reject transits, which only seem to be appreciated by other travel clubs that we in no way are affiliated to. Thebesttravelled.com has come very far from its humble beginnings and is now a respected standard for the traveller - novice and advanced alike. It is out of respect for the travellers who respect us that we will work harder to ensure that being part of our community is not seen as granted at all - though it will always remain free as long as we exist. We are a few weeks away from reaching 12.000 members now, and will be happy to see some of them reconsider their participation if they do not accept our understanding of the real spirit of travel.

Thebesttravelled.com has never been meant as a competitive travel site - the term is an invention that we do not appreciate at all. Yes, we have a carefully devised list of 1281 world regions (download it!) - enough to be endless but not too many to be unmanageable - but the regions are there primarily to give ideas, motivation and a desire for the restless and the knowledge seeker to see more and plan trips in a certain way and to grow as a human being through deep travel; the introduction of our WHS list and the TBT Series should serve this purpose even more, giving you all a vast number of possibilities for places to go, things to try to do - and yes, you can then claim a 'point' for the fun of it. But the 'point' is not why we exist. There is, and never will be, a number one traveller. Because travel is entirely unique for everybody, and, much like life itself, this is its great beauty!
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Unusual places on our XL Series

Mount Paektu area
North Korea never ceases to fascinate, and with good reason - the country is unique in every way. But there's more than the political dimension; it is has particularly beautiful nature. One of the most quirky places to reach is its border with China at Mount Paektu, which is an active volcano. Some tours include this on their itinerary, and it is well worth experiencing the scenery, as well as the drive from the airport if you arrive by plane into Samjiyon airport.
There is no border crossing here at all obviously, but visitors could get there from both sides of the border really - the drive from China would take you through quite a lot of unlikely terrain; but of course the thrill of being in North Korea cannot be matched, especially since reaching the summit on the Korean side could involve a funicular ride; whether the funicular does or doesn't work is anybody's guess of course...
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TBT Suggests - Welterbummler Mag

We continue our commitment to internationalism and blogs that are not only in English by presenting one of the most popular German travel blogs by Marianna, weltenbummlermag. This 35-year old from Hamburg (with Greek roots!) inspires her readers to travel through her tips, and inspires their waistlines to expand through a special foodie section as well. And while the map of where she has gone may be far from complete, it appears she is really enjoying what she is seeing and sharing her passion with us - those of us who can read German. And that is just swell! Happy travels Marianna!
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Sascha Grabow
For those well-versed in the traveller community, Sascha needs no introduction. One of our highest ranking travellers, whose knowledge of Africa is second to none and who has even formed his own club - which we thoroughly recommend - the author of Traveling: 30 Years Around the Planet is certainly a very versatile, inspirational and daring adventurer!
Sascha, in 2016 you completed your last UN country in Somalia. Was this an aim for some time? Why? How does it feel now? Did you celebrate?
Actually in the last nine years I visited only three new countries each year (with the exception of my two-year Pacific stint), even though I was traveling eleven months of the year. I chose a different approach, maybe also because I wasn't ready to look for a new goal after all those years dedicated to this endeavor. Finally Jorge (Sanchez) encouraged me to get the last three under my belt, and, spending longer than a month in two of those, I have had no regrets whatsoever since. Somalia isn't the place where one could celebrate in a way we would think of the meaning of that word .. you won't find any drinks there ...
You are a so-to-speak African expert. What fascinates you especially with this continent?
Africa .. see it to believe it! A French friend's father once told him not to visit Africa before he turned 40 .. as otherwise he wouldn't want to look around anywhere else on the planet after that. When now almost everywhere there are hordes of tourists roaming the streets, even nowadays you can be on your own and feel thus special when in Africa. Just yesterday it struck me that one must finally uncover MTP (Most Traveled People website) as the joke it is. Sorry to have to say but true, when it comes to Africa. Imagine if one can get 'travel points' equal to 50% of what is Africa 'valued at', for driving around all the different cantons of Switzerland in a single day! What an excuse to let the sissy traveler in through the back door! Ridiculous! And more so that folks still, after almost ten years, don't seem to have taken any offence with this 'situation'! Unbelievable! Again, I'm sorry to have to emphasize this so much, but it's just such a glaringly obvious unfair weighing of different regions of the world, and I feel very strongly about it these days.
You have your own website at saschagrabow.com but we notice it isn't much updated. Who is it aimed at? Do you consider yourself a blogger?
I try as much as I can to have things updated WHEN I get the chance to do it, but foremost I am a traveler and don't mind leaving the face of the earth for months on end if an upcoming adventure requires that. The mantra of having to blog regularly in order to blog successfully is definitely lost on me I must admit. As I am a Getty photographer as well, maintain a youtube channel, have just published my first book and teach tennis around the world at times, while in general believing that staying away from a laptop as much as you can is the healthiest way you could possibly live, what you get (my output is) is a compromise according to these very different components I like to mix up my life with in order to escape boredom (my biggest fear, almost like it's Asterix & Obelix' only fear that heaven will fall onto their heads) eternally.
You are also a founder of your own travel club. Tell us something about it.
At GreatestGlobetrotters.com I tried to find a way to balance the traveling styles of backpackers versus jet-setters, while at the same time not discrediting other clubs' (those existing then) divisions of the world. Of course flying saves time so overlanding will give you an extra point. But not only that: there is a huge difference between passing through a land border on your own, and landing somewhere on a flight where basically everything is taken care of for you, and you don't have to take a single traveling decision of your own, whereupon success or failure of the venture may depend on. One would have a point suggesting that I might have been more radical in my approach.
Tell us about some of the travel highlights that you will never forget.
I like situations when someone tells me it absolutely can't be done. It is right then when I start becoming excited about a project. Walking 250km through the jungle of Congo-Brazzaville from the border of the Central African Republic was such a trip, where the pygmees were delighted to exchange a single sachet of Nescafe against a delicious grilled monkey. I guess whatever a certain region provides in abundance! Walking a thousand kilometers through the other, larger, Congo-Kinshasa was equally memorable. Climbing Mont Blanc or Germany's highest mountain as the only one without any gear or even gloves was exciting also. Sitting and leaning against my backpack for 12 hours without moving while being watched by pairs of huge cat-eyes through one black night in the Costa Rican jungle. Being a day away from having my leg amputated in Samoa was another moment where calm, clear, sane and experienced decision-making was crucial for getting through to the other side of things.
What is the most important element of a place that your impression rests on? 
It is always the people and their way of life that make a place most special. That is why one should ideally always bring one's whole life when setting out on a new expedition. Many tell you: Oh, I have to come back here next time, I have to go there again! No! A place is special in your memory because you met this extraordinary person there. Then next time you go there, you have an expectation to make a comparable experience there. But because of this expectation you won't .. leaving you disappointed of the place. The other location .. where you never had this personal encounter in the first place .. may actually hold charms like that for you .. but you will never know because you aren't inclined to go back there! These dynamics make it clear that if you are having a good time somewhere, then stay there as long as it continues to be so, and if that means for the rest of your life!

Folks may think that always estimating the grass to be greener on the other side makes one a big traveler .. while the opposite is true: not missing a place but always enjoying the moment you are in right there and then rejuvenates your energy and keeps you thrilled and elated like on your very first journey.
You've obviously often got into trouble while travelling?
I was held a night in Guinea-Conakry when trying to cross into Sierra Leone overland. In Liberia a child soldier threatened to empty his Ak-47 into my belly unless I gave him 10$. In France four youngsters tried to rob my bag while night-hitching at a highway toll station. Their driver punched me a black eye while we both struggled for my bag, but the surprisingly present police still let them go. In Port-au-Prince, Haiti, I promised the local hotel owner to be back before 5am so that he could open the place that was locked from the outside with a huge padlock, me holding the key. I honored my part of the deal, even though I had met some chaps that night who invited me to their luxury lodgings. But six hours later next morning my backpack inside the hotel room had been slashed open with a knife and 200$ cash stolen!

I remember times in Africa when it seemed that every third night I had to resort to running at any one point in order to get out of a troublesome situation. It is absolutely incomprehensible to me how travelers here give interviews claiming they've managed to get to every country in the world without the slightest insalubrity ever happening to them!

Oh .. and I forgot: one time my arm was broken with a gun while getting robbed hitchhiking in Gabon, Central Africa.
So, do you have a home base? If yes, where? If no, don't you miss such a concept?
Home is where the heart is, right?! ..though easy said, it is a more demanding task to fulfill.
Now that you have finished the countries of the world, what are your remaining travel aims?
UN+ is universally accepted I guess, while starting from the Travelers Century Club list with some entries you can be of divided opinion regarding their value. If I get a chance to reach overland one of those countries that I haven't so far, then I'm always up for it. Have more time to go back to Africa now, and slow down travels in a way so that a longer-time relation is possible if one then encounters one. Last but not least: buy a huge hot-water bottle, hopefully get through the visa hassle, and finally give Russia the appropriate travel attention it deserves as the largest country on earth :)
Finally, if you could be granted one superpower, what would you wish it to be?
Righting the world's justice systems while avoiding another world war. Granting those people who focus on love and honesty a financially decent life, as opposed to only those who focus on money.
The photographs accompanying this interview are from Sascha's private collection.
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